Full face helmet ... check. Shoulder pads ... check. 8-inch travel mountain bike ... check. Nerves of steel ... double check.
I've been riding a bike for more than 40 years. I've ridden to the top of some of the greatest mountain passes in the country, and I've ridden from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in one summer.
I've even ridden most of the epic trails of Fruita and Moab, but when it comes to putting on pads and letting gravity take over, I get very nervous. There is something scary about downhill riding and flying at a high rate of speed, going over jumps and taking drops that I can't get used to. I'm a rider that loves cross country riding. Give me a rolling single track trail and I am happy as a pig in mud. Climbing has always been my favorite aspect of riding, but when the trail turns and it starts to go downhill, I get bent out of shape.
I decided this past summer to conquer my fears. The Steamboat Bike Park at Steamboat Ski Resort plays host to more than 50 miles of built and maintained trails for all ability levels. These trails can be accessed from the gondola and with a bike pass you can load your two-wheeled buddy onto the lift and experience a fun-filled day of riding the newly created downhill and freeride terrain.
Downhill or freeride bikes usually differ slightly from my cross-country riding bike. Equipped with more travel and a relaxed geometry, these bikes are designed better for going down than up. Like the shaped ski industry, this category of bikes has changed dramatically over the past several years. These bikes look more like a mini dirt bike and they have the suspension to prove it. Eight inches of travel is the norm compared to my cross-country bike with 3 inches. Any bike could suffice as a downhill bike, but the more travel the merrier.
Loading my bike onto the gondola for the first time seems a bit out of place for me, but I quickly change my tune as my near 30-pound machine gets rolled into the car in front of me. A summer's ride on the gondola is always relaxing. The mountain takes on a different look than it does in the winter.
The emerald green slopes covered with wild flowers are a welcome change to the white groomed corduroy and fluffy powder we’re used to seeing. The ride takes you over several trails you'll be coming down and gives you a chance to scout out your descent. I opt for a mellow start to my morning and head towards a run called Tenderfoot. This aptly named run is anything but tender, but it's a great intermediate trail to get you warmed up. The banked turns, mellow rollers and smaller, optional airs on this trail help me build my confidence and I successfully complete my first official downhill run.
The bike was a wonderful ride and the plush suspension seemed to smooth the trail ahead of me. It allowed me to challenge myself more than I normally would. The rush of adrenaline was amazing and the moment I caught my first air, I was hooked.
As the day progressed, it quickly became apparent that not only was I hooked, but I found myself a new hobby. I was starting get a feel for the terrain and how my bike was handling throughout each turn.
I was even able to manage a few large airs and even took on some smaller drops. I'm saving the large ones for another day and possibly considering taking a lesson from the Steamboat Bike School. There are three levels to choose from, beginning with Bike Park 101 through Enduro Excursion. These two-hour group sessions are taught daily and run through the end of August. It's great to learn the basics or to help more advanced riders sharpen their skills.
As the last riders load onto the gondola for one final lap, I decide to call it a day. I have successfully completed my first official downhill day. Tired, slightly beat up and exhausted, I head to the deck of the Slopeside Bar & Grill to toast my new found adventure. The Steamboat Bike Park has done a wonderful job in creating a top-rated bike park in just a few shorts years. I'm excited to see what the future holds on the slopes of Mount Werner.
Jumping for Joy
Sitting on top of the triple jump, I anxiously await my turn to drop in. My son, Dylan, is in front of me and is about to launch himself over the first jump. The Bear River Bike Park is one of our favorite activities during the sunny summer days. With the Yampa River rushing in the background and the few remaining patches of snow still visible on Mount Werner, this park is always busy with activity. All levels of riders, from kids on their Striders to the seasoned expert, are present this morning. The jumps are in amazing shape and hats off to the dedicated volunteers who spend countless hours shaping and manicuring the park for our enjoyment.
We are frequent visitors to the park and often times spend most of our day riding the pump track and honing our skills on the larger airs. If you’re a beginner biker looking to improve your handling skills or an advanced rider looking for a fun outing, Steamboat Springs has a few biking options for you.
This bike park which opened three years ago has been a constant evolving process. Each year the jumps get improved, more terrain gets opened and this once quaint little park located just west of town gets more recognition.
As I drop into the triple a rush of adrenaline surges through my body as I catch my first air of the day. Although it's not very big, the brief feeling of floating through the air is exciting. The second air is bigger than the first and the third tops them all. Landing with both wheels on the ground and staying upright is always my end goal and I managed to accomplish this. Each time I come here, I feel my biking skills are improving and my confidence is quickly growing. My airs are getting bigger and I can feel the results in my riding.
Dylan hits the next set of jumps like a pro and then does a blazing lap through the pump track. I quickly follow and begin chasing him on his rear wheel. His skills have increased twofold, and since coming here and I find myself already starting to play catch up with him on the trails.
The park is easily accessed off the Yampa River Core Trail by simply heading west until the trail ends. If you have to drive, there is a newly paved road and parking lot for your convenience. Skaters, don't forget to pack your deck. Next to the dirt bike park, a fast, fun and rhythmic cement skate park has tons of great lines and even has a great little street section. Feeling adventurous? Try the fun bowl.
Deemed as one of the best skate parks this side of the Continental Divide, you can spend an entire day riding until your heart's content. The parks are open from sun up to sun down, which gives you plenty of hours of enjoyment.
As we wrap up our session with a few more jumps, we sit on the sidelines and take in the views. The final riders are hitting the big tabletops as the sun starts to set and the alpenglow lights up the evening sky. We are truly blessed to live in such a great community that would contribute years of effort to create such a wonderful community park.